For 10 years, the Gulfport Harbor Monument to Merchant Mariners stood at the foot of Urie Pier, a popular small craft harbor fishing spot. The most noticeable aspect of the U.S. Merchant Marine tribute was a lighthouselike tower.
At the foot of the tower stood a granite slab etched with: "To Honor All Merchant Mariners Of All Nations Who Have Helped Us Maintain Our Liberty, Freedom, Independence."
Veterans worked hard to raise money and local government support for the Gulfport memorial, partly because many Americans don't know about the federal service. The U.S. Merchant Marine is the fleet of ships that carries goods during peacetime and becomes a naval auxiliary during wartime.
It's little known that these men and women suffered more war-related deaths per capita in World War II than other services, losing 3.9 percent of its personnel, compared to the Army's 2.08 percent. The mariner service was vital to shipping troops and war supplies.
'Marines' is a misnomer so we call ourselves mariners or seafarers," said Dub Bourgeois, who had Merchant Marine training in Pass Christian before joining the 215,000 who served in WWII.
The retired Gulfport resident is an officer of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of American Merchant Marine Veterans, which received a donation from national headquarters to help keep the Coast chapter active. Before Katrina, it had 70 members.
Another donation of $1,500 for rebuilding the memorial has come from the Gulfport chapter of the Propeller Club of the U.S.
The hurricane knocked out the tower and washed the 6-foot granite slab into the water, where it remains, partially in water and on riprap.
The Coast chapter does not know the condition of the granite etching since it is facedown. Bourgeois said the chapter will soon meet with city officials to talk about the role Gulfport might play.
"The future of the monument is uncertain," Bourgeois said. "We don't know yet how much money it will take to restore, if the city will participate or if the monument will stay in the same location."
- KAT BERGERON